Bar Taco: Upscale Gluten-Free Street Food

If you can’t get away to the beaches of Brazil, you can at least treat yourself to a mini-vacation by dining at Bar Taco.

Where: Bar Taco, 201 S. Estes Drive, Ste. E3, in University Mall. Currently, there is an additional NC location in Raleigh at North Hills. When traveling in the southeast, you can also find Bar Taco in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia.

GF Menu: No; however, the few items that contain gluten and/or are fried in a fryer with items containing gluten are marked with a symbol (^ for “contains gluten”) on the menu.

A line on the menu requests: “Please let us know if there are any allergies we should be aware of when preparing your meal.”

What I ate:  I have dined at Bar Taco on numerous occasions. You’ll see a sampling of tacos in the photos below, but I usually order the Lunch Special (pick three tacos + a side).

How to order it: At Bar Taco, your food is always made to order. After reviewing the menu, ask the server to answer any questions you have about ingredients. Each server I have met at Bar Taco has been knowledgeable regarding what is gluten-free, and what isn’t.

Note: Not all restaurant tacos are created alike; due to processing, many tortillas from the grocery store or restaurants contain small amounts of wheat to extend their shelf life. This is why it is especially remarkable to find Bar Taco, where the fresh 4-inch tortillas are made of corn, and indeed GF.

Not sure you want a tortilla taco? Not a problem. Bar Taco offers to swap the tortilla on any taco for a bibb lettuce shell for an extra $0.25. Or you can opt for something from their menu of “not tacos” (includes tamales and corn tortilla quesadillas), or any of the rice bowls.

Noteworthy: It is a rare treat for someone with a gluten intolerance to be able to order fried fish in a restaurant. Most restaurants dredge their fish in flour batter. At Bar Taco, however, the fish is prepared in a rice-based tempura batter, and is fried in a dedicated fryer that does not touch ingredients containing gluten.

Also worth mentioning is the falafel. Traditionally, falafel are made with ground chickpeas, herbs, and spices. While this might sound gluten-free to the novice, those with gluten sensitivities need to consider whether the spices used are GF, and also whether the falafel is fried in the same fryer with other items containing gluten. At Bar Taco, this guesswork has been removed. The falafel are reported to be gluten-free, and fried in a fryer dedicated to gluten-free items.

Additionally, the three hot sauces (jalapeno, roja, and pineapple habanero) on the table are all gluten-free.

Bar Taco features daily taco specials. As always, ask the server whether these ingredients are gluten-free before ordering off-menu.

Once you review the menu, fill out your paper order form. The server will then go over the order with you, and confirm details before delivering it to the kitchen.

What it looks like:

Taco Tray with Soup

Bar Tacos are made from your choice of either the 4-inch fresh corn tortillas or a bibb lettuce shell. Pictured above is the lunch special of three tacos made with corn tortillas and my selected side, a scrumptious chicken soup packed with fresh vegetables, topped with cilantro.

Yes, that is sunshine splashing across my tray. Bar Taco in Chapel Hill offers some lovely outdoor patio seating. But the food also glows, no matter where you sit.

The roasted duck taco, soft and exquisitely balanced with its tamarind glaze, pickled red onions, and fresh cilantro.

This assortment of five proteinaceous tacos really hit the spot. Roasted duck, baja fish, crispy rock shrimp, carne asada, and chicken chorizo.

Here is the lunch special on a different day. This time, I ordered the roasted cauliflower, the baja fish, and the falafel, with a side salad.

Green Note:  As you can see from the photos above, Bar Taco opts to use metal trays rather than plates. This not only contributes to the feeling that you are on a beachy vacation, but it also reduces overall waste. Metal does not break or chip the way ceramic plates do, and can be easily cleaned and reused.

Water is provided on your table in refillable glass bottles.

The cutlery is arranged in an as-you-need format in caddies on each table. Napkins are the same. Take what you need, and conserve the rest.

4 thoughts on “Bar Taco: Upscale Gluten-Free Street Food

  1. I’m crazy for falafels and I miss eating out in a Taco joint too. Do you know if they use wheat or other gluten flour in the place at all? It took me forever to find the reason why people say that flour remains in the air for 24 hours, but I did find it and now that’s a question I always ask. The reason is that people who develop flour allergy (bakers usually), have been well studied and their workplace shows the flour remains airborne for a long time. I guess I’ll have to ask them which items contain gluten. Thanks for the review! Looks good.

    1. Hi, Angelica. Great question. Reviewing the Chapel Hill menu again, I see a flour tortilla quesadilla (as opposed to the corn one also offered) on the kids’ menu, churros, key lime pie in a jar, and ice cream cones that are marked as containing gluten. I’m not sure whether they make those things on site, so I would definitely ask them. I hope you have a positive experience there. Btw, I’ve included your “Durham’s Gluten Free Network” site on my Resources Page. You are doing great work! Thank you!

      1. Thanks so much 🙂 Sorry about the late reply. I love your reviews! I still feel like I’m new to the area, I was sick and unable to go out much for such a long time. Celiac may be annoying to live with, but I’m feeling so much better lately. I’m grateful for the new freedom.

  2. So glad you are feeling better! Your blog posts have been incredibly informative and helpful. I can tell you are putting a lot of careful research and time into them. Thank you so much for the service you are providing! Looking forward to reading more.

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